Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Eating Omily: A Balanced Autumn Breakfast is a Baked Apple in Each Hand

Happy Fall Equinox! Are you ready to dive right into Autumn, or are you like many many people out there who thrive in the high, hot sunshine of Summer, and shrivel up into a little icy ball when the whispers of Winter start?

While I can't properly empathize because I love Winter, you definitely aren't alone! There are lots of ways to slowly prepare your body for the weather ahead. I find eating locally and seasonally goes a long way toward helping me appreciate each season as it comes. I'm not a fan of weather over 80 degrees, but I know we need it if I'm going to enjoy flavorful tomatoes, and juicy peaches.

While there's not a whole lot growing in the dead of a New York City Winter, this dormancy period is essential for our fruit trees, and it also kills off last year's population of pest bugs. That may not sound as sexy as a sweet, juicy peach, but I just spent a few days in Texas, where they don't get a whole lot of hard frost, and having to keep my shoes on at all times and my eyes open for scorpions, tarantulas, giant beetles, and fire ants wasn't much fun. Winter really does have its advantages, aside from the beauty of drifting snowflakes, and the fun of sledding.
I actually really like tarantulas, but would you be willing to trade Winter for these guys?
But we don't have to worry about Winter yet! We have a whole season of crisp breezes, colorful leaves, and of course, pumpkin spice everything to enjoy first! Here's a home chef secret: pumpkin is really hard to work with. It tends to be really watery, and a bit bland. You're better off with an acorn, butternut, or delicate squash (or just about any other variety of winter squash). Kabocha squash looks like a squat, greenish-blue pumpkin, and tastes like a richer, fleshier version of one. It's a beast to chop up though, so get your hands on a really good knife, or a really strong sous chef before you haul one home.
What's an easier way to bring the flavor of Fall into your kitchen? Baked apples! Trust me, you can't go wrong with these. Cheap, easy, and a crowd-pleaser.

Preheat your oven to 350 or 375, depending on how hot your oven tends to run. If you're not sure, think back to previous experiences: do you have to pull your cookies from the pan before the time the recipe suggests, or leave them after? A hot oven will brown things before they cook thoroughly; a cool oven will dry things out or turn them to mush without browning them.

Slice your apples in half from top to bottom. If you're feeling inspired, take the extra moment to cut each stem in half, too, so each half looks like a perfect apple cross section. Using a knife, or grape fruit spoons work well if you happen to have those, carve the core out of the apple. You should be left with a roundish whole in the center of each apple half. Put a little butter, up to a teaspoon, into each apple, then top it with brown sugar, or better yet, cookie crumbs. Those Italian almond cookies, or the biscoff, those extra yummy cookies you sometimes get on airplanes early in the morning, are extra awesome. I like to crush up the cookies in my mortar and pestal, and then whisk in extra spices: all spice, freshly grated nutmeg, cardamum...if there isn't cinnamon in the cookies you're using, or you're just using brown sugar, you should definitely add that, too. Cloves are another yummy choice.
Ok, if you've made it this far, you have two options:

The easy route: put a dab of butter, up to a teaspoon, on top of each pile of brown sugar or cookies crumbs. Pour half a cup of water into the baking dish, and put these babies in the oven for about half an hour. The steam from the water will help to get the apples tender all the way through, and by leaving them uncovered, they should have a chance to start browning, too.

The Over-Achiever Route: add the half cup of water, but don't top the apples with butter yet. Cover the baking pan with foil. Leave a bit uncovered, so some steam can escape. Bake for fifteen minutes. Remove the foil, brush the tops of apples and crumbs with butter, and keep baking until the water has evaporated, and the apples have browned, about another fifteen minutes.
(photo of baked apples)
These do find as leftovers (and yes, they make a great breakfast the next morning), but are, like most things, best fresh and warm from the oven. You can hold them in your hand and take bites, like a healthy Autumnal cupcake, or if they turn out really tender, cut them up with a knife and fork.
I love the pink color seeping into the flesh!
Just about anywhere in the U.S. you can get your hands on local apples this time of year, so no excuses! Welcome Autumn with this warm and fragrant celebration of the season. So do you think you'll make a batch of baked apples this Fall? Tell me how they turn out for you, and if you discover any new variations!
There were lots of nifty critters in Texas! Here I am with some bona fide, branded long horns! And yes, my deltoid is cut like a diamond, thank you. ;-)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Satya Blues and Visa Yellows

Last week I did a lot of teaching with my regular yoga classes, assisting an aerial silks class, and subbing two vinyasa classes, a core/booty fitness class, and an aerial yoga class! This week I'm switching over to student mode in more ways than one:

I'm not subbing any classes this week, and I even  subbed out my slow flow vinyasa class today so I'd have time to drop off my sweet foster kitten at the adoption center, and head on over to the Chinese Consulate to apply for a visa, and tomorrow, I'm leaving for a five-day aerial retreat with a teacher of one of my teachers...

I've been so nervous filling out the application over the last few days. It makes me think about Satya: truth-telling. It seems easy enough to fill out an application honestly, but when you don't have all the answers yet, is it better to hazard a guess, or leave it blank? What about my photo? Most sources just say, 'recent', but one specified less than six months old...do they really want me to delay applying by a week while I get another identical photo taken at Walgreens?? Should I have explicitly mentioned that my husband will be joining me for just two  and a half weeks of my five and a half week stay? Will it seem weird that I listed my mom as my emergency contact, and not him, when he's listed as helping to finance the trip?
This is the first time I've googled Shanghai. Looks like quite a place!
 And...I am taking this trip as a tourist. According to my visa. Which is true. I'll totally be touristing...Is there anything else I'll be doing? Is this a moment of just putting Satya aside, or is there such a thing as telling a lie to live your truth, like Dimple Lala embraces in Bombay Blues? And will I have my own case of Shanghai blues as the days without my husband add up? Satya blues? Currently if I had to choose a color, it'd be the pale yellow of the receipt I'll be bringing back to the consulate to pick up my passport, hopefully with my three to six month two-entry visa in it.

Tomorrow is not promised to us, so of course, my visa certainly isn't.

I hope to keep up with my regular blogging schedule on here, but I'm also going to have another tumblr going temporarily, detailing my adventures in Shanghai and beyond...and of course, I'll be calling it Shanghai Blues, in homage to Dimple, and to her creator, the author of Born Confused and Bombay Blues, Tanuja Desai Hidieri. This is supposed to be a yoga blogpost, but I have to give a shoutout for these two beautiful books. Read them!

And read my blog, Shanghai Blues, at omilyshanghaiblues.tumblr.com. I'll have lots to say about my aerial retreat of course, but you'll have to get on over to Talitha Koum: An Aerial Omily Tumblr to get the scoop.

In the meantime: invert or backbend back and forth: are you a teacher, or a student? You are always both. But sometimes more one than the other. So, if someone asks, what's your Satya..? Live the question.

Live Omily,
~em


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Omily Tarot: In Case You Weren't Clear on This

Can we just talk about how awesome the Tarot is? I know: we do this a lot. But seriously!!! YES, it's a way to turn inward and explore your subconscious. YES, it's a rad parlor trick that will save any lackluster party or outing. YES, it's a way to help your loved ones broaden their horizons and find their true paths...but it's even MORE than that!

It's a 22-step guide to enlightenment!

It's  a window into Carl Jung's work!

It's a lens through which to view basically ALL of Western culture: old, new, and in between!

It's just freaking gorgeous to look at, and regardless of your beliefs or understanding of the tarot, or the other aspects of western culture it touches on,

it's ALWAYS thought-provoking for everyone!

Um, can you name any one other thing that is this awesome?

Ok, chocolate. Nom nom nom...

And kitty belly.

But seriously, those things are STILL not as useful as the tarot is!

So...assuming you ARE reading this, and you AREN'T a tarot geek...why haven't you picked up a deck and got in the game??

Do you feel intimated by the complex wisdom locked into that flimsy cardboard?

Do you feel like it has nothing to offer you because you lack the background info that sets the tarot into context?

Are you concerned that using the tarot clashes with your spiritual beliefs?

Or, do you feel like using the tarot is tantamount to HAVING spiritual beliefs, and you don't feel that you do?

Do you feel like you don't have time to do it justice?

Or that you'll never be good enough to read professionally, or for others at all?

Ok, well, here's one more thing the tarot is that makes is so awesome:

It's for everyone!

You don't HAVE to be a tarot geek! You don't HAVE to read up on the history! You don't have to ever lay out a divination spread, or meditate on a card, or anything else! And, you don't HAVE to believe a damn thing to enjoy it! It's YOUR tarot deck! You do what you want with it, when you want. You make it your own! That's what makes it so rad! For every person who has ever shuffled through a deck, there has been a different take on what the tarot is and what it is for.

In fact, you don't HAVE to buy one! Google image search, or borrow a friend. Follow your own level of interest, which includes, of course,

just not being interested in it at all...though if that's the case, I can't help but ask...why are you still reading..? ;-)


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Eating Omily: Honey, Please

Remember Winnie the Pooh? Philosophical bear with a honey obsession? Well, I'm beginning to think he was onto something. No, not about finding your way out of the woods by following sand pits. No, not about walking in circles around copses of trees, either. Nope, not even flood survival tactics, or hefalump and woozle precautions (and if you don't get these references I don't know what kind of childhood you had, but it sure was different than mine). The HONEY, you guys! It's all about the honey!
I've always enjoyed honey as a way to perk up peanut butter toast, or smooth and sweeten a cup of tea, but lately it, and other gifts from our friends the bees, have become my favourite health supplement.

Naturally, I get my honey from the Farmers' Market in its raw, unfiltered state: deep golden, with a complex flavor that reflects what blossoms the bees were dipping into at the time. If you think wine tasting at the Farmers' Market is fun, you've got to get over to one of the apiary vendors and start tasting their wares!

I was enjoying just this pastime with some honey-sweet friends visiting from my hometown a couple weeks ago, inhaling the fragrance drifting from not only the honey itself, but the beeswax candles, lip balm, and ointment for sale, when I noticed something called, 'hon-e-lixr' on the top shelf. Of course I asked what it was, and was awarded with a taste.

Hon-e-lixr is creamed honey mixed with bee pollen: a half ounce of bee pollen per pound of sweet, creamy creamed honey! If you happen to enjoy scraping the last of the crystallized sweetness out of your honey jar, cream honey is like that, only a zillion times better, because it's slowly and carefully crystalized to create teeny tiny crystals, resulting in a smooth, thick, creamy, spreadable texture. It's the same difference between popsicles and premium ice cream: one is good, the other is awesome.
Here's what hon-e-lixr looks like! Creamed honey looks similar, but paler in color since it doesn't have the pollen mixed in. Don't mind me...nom nom nom...
Incidentally, you can also get your creamed honey without added pollen, which may not be a bad idea for reasons we'll get to in a minute. You can also get bee pollen alone, and I was enjoying my hon-e-lixr so much, that I went back and did just that a few days later.

So, what's bee pollen? It starts life as flower pollen, but is gathered by the bee, along with the nectar that gets made into honey. The bees carry it back to the hive as little pellets stuck to a special place on their legs called 'pollen baskets'. Back at the hive, the pollen is rolled up into little balls with bits of honey, nectar, and/or bee spit to make it stick. Each tiny ball is then popped into a single, perfect hexagonal cell, ready to be the first food of a freshly hatched bee larva.
But don't worry: gathering the pollen from the bees is easy, and harmless. The bees are simply forced to enter the hive via opening small enough to scrape some of the pollen pellets off the bees' legs. The pellets fall down into a container with openings too small for the bees to retrieve the pollen from, and the bee keeper harvests the pollen daily. This pollen is frequently sold as a health supplement, but some of it is held back as well, so that if the bees need supplemental food early on in the Spring, the bee keeper is ready to help them out. Think of it as a mandatory savings account for bees that pays sweet interest to the human bankers!

So what does bee pollen have in it for humans? Well, you can compare it to milk: as the first and only food needed for baby mammals, it's self-evident that milk is a potent source of nutrition. Pollen is the same thing for insects, and since we're not so very different, it packs a powerful punch for us as well, and while it's not vegan, since we obtain it by taking it from bees, it IS vegan in the sense that the protiens, fats, enzhymes etc. it contaisn are 100% plant-based. I take it in the morning by dipping my spoonful of delicious Hon-e-lixer in the bee pollen jar, for an extra pollen punch to energize me right out of my morning slump.

Now, this is important, so pay attention: pollen, as you may well know, is a common allergen. If you are allergic to pollen and you eat it, you could have a reaction. Anything from some mild itchiness all the way up to full anaphylactic shock. This has happened to people who eat pollen, generally people who are aware of having severe allergies, but rarely, to people who haven't yet been diagnosed with having allergies at all. It is something you choose to do at your own risk. You can minimize your risk by talking to your doctor about it, getting tested for allergies, and/or taking an antihistamine at least an hour before consuming pollen. I'm not a doctor, and I can't tell you if the benefits of pollen outweigh the risks for you. It's worth noting that no scientific studies have found pollen to be good for energy, allergies, the immune system, inflammation, or any of the many other health claims that have been made about it. It's also worth mentioning that bee products are notoriously difficult to test for efficacy, because the exact make-up of these products varies from region to region, hive to hive, even hour to hour! Some flower pollens may well boost the immune system, calm down inflammation, increase energy, or any number of other things. Other flower pollens could well do nothing at all, or even something negative. Bee pollen is not recommended for pregnant, or nursing women, but again, that's something you can discuss with your doctor or midwife.

Something that's safe for everybody (except babies under the age of one year because infant botulism is a thing) is honey! Delicious, sticky, sweet, honey! Honey touched by the fruit that will later develop on the trees from which the nectar was gathered: crisp with apples and pears, or full-flavored, and rich with hints of blackberries...you can't go wrong! And yes, honey can have some surprising health benefits, too!
Mmmm...delicious, raw, local honey...
My husband read on a coworker's blog that taking a spoonful of honey before bed can decrease instances of waking up in the middle of the night, because it provides your brain with the particular kind of sugar it needs to work hard filing and organizing during your dream sleep. I'm not sure how much evidence there is for this, but I don't need much encouragement to eat honey before bed, so I've been trying it the past few days. I generally sleep like a rock once I drift off, so I wasn't too worried about that, but I was more interested in the oft-sited side effect of bedtime honey eating: vivid, strange, and more readily-remembered dreams! I'm sure effects vary, but I've had a conversation's worth of crazy dreams to report every morning since I started taking bed-time honey!

So what do you think? Want to incorporate more bee yumminess into your life? You could also try some propolis: a resin bees collect and mix up from evergreen trees and other sources, and use to seal up their hives.
as pictured here
It's been used a natural remedy for a long time, topically for burns and rashes, and internally for sore throats and colds. Does it work? Let me refer you back to the bee pollen lecture. Although propolis doesn't carry the risks that bee pollen does, it does carry the same challenges for rigorous scientific testing. It may work for you, and it may not. And just because one bottle worked like a charm doesn't mean the next one will.  Bees are tricky that way! But hey, what's the worse that can happen? I can't vouch for propolis, but the rest of this stuff is insanely delicious...and you can always mix your propolis with honey if it tastes a bit like...well, sealant.
This is propolis in its raw state. Some people just eat it this way to help them get over a cold.
When propolis is made into a tincture, it's often used to treat cold sores...and sores elsewhere caused by the same virus.
Make sure you get your bee products directly from a bee keeper, who manages their bees humanely and sustainably, so you know they aren't heat treated, pasteurized, or mixed and processed within an inch of their lives. If you buy these products from a store, even a health food store, you run the risk of their being cut with less beneficial ingredients to make them cheaper to manufacture. Supplements are very poorly regulated in America. This can be a good thing in some ways; we don't necessarily want moneyed interests getting their paws on all our natural cures, but it does mean you've got to check your sources carefully.
Enjoy licking those sticky paws clean...and if you have any truly fantastic dreams, come back and report them in the comments!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Quit Being a Baby Ego, and Start Being a Baby Cobra

Today I'd like to talk about a pose that every student of vinyasa yoga has done before, perhaps daily: Baby Cobra.

This varies from teacher to teacher, but I always cue knees-chest-chin to baby cobra for the first few vinyasas in my classes, and if I get the feeling most of my students aren't exactly yoga veterans, that's as far as we go. In a more mixed class, I'll offer plank, floor, cobra, and chaturanga to upward-facing dog, but I emphasize that knees-chest-chin baby cobra remains a solid choice.

It's a solid choice alright, but very few yogis take it once I open up the floor to other options.

And that's a shame, because Baby Cobra is an awesome pose! In fact, it's one of my favourites. It improves mobility in the upper back and shoulders while stabilizing and protecting the sensitive lower back, promotes expansion of the chest, highlights body awareness and isolation, and works both the front, and the back of the core. It's a pose that's good for everybody, and there are very few injuries or issues that make it a bad idea to do.

With all these rad benefits, why are people so quick to ditch it?

Well, the name doesn't help. Who wants to spend an hour and a half doing itty bitty baby cobra? It's understandable that the assumption would be that this pose is for newbs (and babies) only, and the big kids are all moving on to more exciting things. Like a lifetime of back pain.

Because, you guys, upward facing dog IS a more advanced pose than baby cobra! Do you know what that means? It means that you need to be a more advanced practitioner in order to do it safely! It does NOT mean that doing it makes you a more advanced practitioner, or that the benefits of updog are greater or better than the benefits of baby cobra. Just because it gets tossed around in all level classes does not mean you should be doing it, and if you can do upward dog safely, that still doesn't mean you always should. You need to consider what benefits your body is looking for in a given class, and choose the variation that will help you reach those goals.

Before attempting it (even if, or maybe especially if, you've been doing it for a while already), you need to take the time to learn it properly, and that means either waiting for a class in which a teacher takes the time to workshop it, or getting yourself a private lesson where it can be covered with the attention to detail necessary for proper alignment.

For most of us, it's not a matter of doing baby cobra one day, and upward dog the next. It's a pose we need to work into slowly, as our bodies build the strength necessary to support themselves in this shape. There are several in-between stages you can rock that will keep your spine safe, and maximize the benefits of both shapes, while building the strength you need to tackle the Big Dog.

Humans are pack animals: it feels good for all of us to be doing the same thing at the same time, especially when the music is pumping, the teacher is inspired, and we're all moving as one, our breaths synchronized. Of course we don't want to break up the cosmic harmony! But when we're untrue to the body we're working with on any given day, we violate Ahimsa, and disrupt the cosmic harmony within.

Our baby ego sees our separation, and believes the shallow unity of doing the same physical action at the same time can bring us together, but the Big You knows the truth: we are already one, and if we choose to sacrifice what's best for ourselves for the sake of our ego, we don't just hurt ourselves. We hurt everyone we wish to feel that already existing connection with!

So here's a challenge for you: Even if you've carefully learned Upward Facing dog, even if you have the strength to do it beautifully and safely one-hundred and fifty times in a row, even if the benefits of that deeper backbend are more immediately useful to you than those of Baby Cobra, walk into a yoga class, and choose Baby Cobra. Choose it over, and over again. Choose it every single opportunity...and notice who is suddenly freed to try it along with you...starting with yourself.

Live Omily,
~em